Breaking Down Recordings
NOTHING WILL GO WRONG
I’m pretty sure this song was conceived on the day the Five Year Plan was born. At the time, our band was called the Inane and we were a four piece. Rob and I had been miserable following the news that the chap who ran the record label which was to put out our first single had suffered a nervous breakdown.
We’d had a stupid argument about something and talked about splitting up the band. This was inconceivable really – Rob and I spent all our time together and the band was what we lived for. As we sat in the kitchen at Rob’s house he suddenly said “I think we should form a new band called the Five Year Plan”. I don’t know if it came to him there and then or if he’d been mulling it over for a while. It immediately sounded like a great name and somehow brought with it the promise of a new direction and re-invigoration.
We got out two guitars and Rob played me this song which he had just written. I put a lead part over it and it sounded pretty good - fresh and new. Still does to my ears. Somewhere in a carrier bag in a dark corner of my house there is a cassette version of this song with Rob singing the lead vocal (Katy had not yet joined the band) – but sadly I’ve lost it.
We recorded the song in January 1986 at the new SAM studio above the Moon Club. The new studio was a palace by comparison with the old SAM , with a big live room, a vocal booth, a larger control room and huge monitor speakers.
The engineer at the new SAM was Sooty, former drummer with Vice-Squad. Sooty was extremely good technically, but he never really “got” us. It was our second session with him, so we were slightly more prepared than we had been when we first recorded with him (more on that later).
Although I enjoy listening back to it now, at the time we were all quite disappointed with the clean production on this and the other songs on the first EP, which didn’t really capture the excitement of the band’s two guitar line-up.
BRAND NEW CAR
We became a 5-piece fairly quickly, by recruiting Rob’s next door neighbour Andrea to play guitar. We then set out in search of someone else to share the singing duties. Katy was found through a mutual friend, Martin Whitehead, who wrote a local fanzine and had written some nice things about our previous band. We got Katy round to my parents house and asked her to sing “Femme Fatale” – she sounded quite like Helen McCookerybook, who had covered the song with her band Skat , so we asked her to join.
By the time we came to record our first single in January 1986 we had dumped everything in our old catalogue and written about 20 new songs. Brand New Car was one that got written in about 10 minutes from start to finish. I just picked up the guitar and the whole thing came rushing out. It’s about trying to find a job in Thatcher’s Britain and about the people her brave new world was creating, basically. Only with a bit of hope thrown in.
You’d never know it, but I thought when I wrote this song it was going to sound like the Fall. It ended up sounding more like the Go-Betweens I guess.
Dave had invested in a Pro-One synth for our new project, of which he was very proud. During the recording of this song we discovered the pitch wheel, hence the funny little bit in the middle. It was quite difficult to get any proper sounds out of the Pro-One, and once you found the sound you needed you daren’t touch anything for fear of losing it, so even messing about with the wheels on the left hand side was considered dangerous territory. We were still using a very small Casio at this time too, because at least you knew you’d get the same sound out of it every time.
Rob wrote the lead guitar part for the whole song, which Andrea played beautifully on the recording – but again, the sound we got should have been much more aggressive than it turned out. On the same missing cassette tape I mentioned earlier there is a brilliant clip of Rob working out the guitar part using a guitar sound which can only be described as “twangy” – it sounds great, but it probably wasn’t considered suitable back in 1985. If we had gone with it then we would pretty much have invented the new wave of British Americana. Shame.
GIVE ME A LIFETIME
Once we had written a few songs as the Five Year Plan, we borrowed a 4-track recorder from Martin and recorded some demos in Rob’s auntie’s house while she was away on holiday. This is how indie bands with no money work. Give Me A Lifetime was one of 7 songs that we managed to complete, and although the demos were rough they showed a lot of promise. We gave a copy to Martin and he seemed impressed, although he described this particular songs as sounding “a bit like Sade”. Mind you, he seemed to think that was a good thing, so we didn’t mind.
Martin told us that he was setting up a record label to go along with the fanzine, and that he might well want to put something out once we had some proper recordings. Unfortunately, it never came to pass, for reasons I’ll go into later, but in a parallel universe it’s quite possible that our first single has the catalogue number SUBWAY1.
These demos were the first time that Katy had ever sung on tape, and it was all very encouraging. There were three songs on that demo which were never recorded again, either as demos or live, so they didn’t make it onto the compilation.
The song itself was written by Rob. I have no idea what inspired it as it sounds quite unlike anything else we ever did. I think the lead guitar part which goes up and up was an attempt to re-create the sort of thing that Robert Smith did on the second Cure album 17 Seconds, before I discovered that it was all done using a Flanger pedal (I know, it sounds nothing like the Cure!).
The cost of the record was funded in part by our school friend Steve Freddie Miles. Steve claims we still owe him the money. I’m usually pretty good at repaying debts but I don’t remember anything about that! The EP was released in May 1986. I don’t think we did anything to promote it other than an interview with the Bristol Evening Post and a piece in venue Magazine. I think we mistakenly left that up to Revolver, who were a distribution company not a record label. I don’t even recall having them to sell at gigs – in fact it is quite remarkable that anyone anywhere owns one!
The cover photo for the EP was taken in a scrap yard in St Phillips in Bristol. We were looking for a spare part for Rob’s battered old Ford Escort and they just told us to climb about in the cars until we found what we needed. I can’t imagine you’d be allowed to do that now, it looks incredibly dangerous..
HIT THE BOTTLE
A year on from our first EP, we had grown in confidence but sadly lost a guitar player in Andrea. The first single had somehow shipped enough copies for Revolver Distribution to agree to fund the production of a second, but this time a 7”. I think we had probably over-stretched ourselves a bit by doing a 12” straight out of the gate, so this time we were very keen to pick our two best songs and put them out in the purest format there ever was.
We also knew, from the demos that we had recorded with Chris Martin at E-plus (of whom more later), that we could get a more punchy sound than the one on the first 12”. But this time we decided to take no chances and we managed to persuade our former producer Steve Street to come back to SAM and do the recordings for us.
Steve was a great chap, almost legendary in our eyes. We first saw him on TV, being interviewed by another Bristol legend Andy Batten-Foster, for a local music show.
Steve was wearing a bright yellow suit, which was enough to grab anyone’s attention, but he also spoke a lot of sense. We immediately found out where he worked and booked ourselves in for a recording session with him. This was back in 1981 when we were still in school and total novices, but Steve worked magic in the studio and made us sound better than we could ever conceive. He was also brilliantly flamboyant, always swirling around in his swivel chair and doing drop-ins with great panache and drama. But most of all, he was a really good producer who brought lots of ideas to the table. He liked the kind of music we played and really understood what we were about.
With Steve back at the controls the 7” session went really well and we were very pleased with the way this song turned out. It really managed to capture the excitement of our live performances, but at the same time still remained controlled somehow. The harmonica, played by my flatmate Jeremy Woods, was to the fore and the middle section, which was a bit rough on the demo version, really came to life with a blast of Josef-K-esque trebly guitar. Rob played all the lead guitar if memory serves me right, which was just as well as he was the only one who could play it. The “antonellis” (as the Jazz Butcher once called them) were particularly tough to pull off, and back then there was no copy and paste function – if you messed up, you did it again.
The song was a true collaboration too – Rob wrote most of the music, I wrote the words. I think I probably also added the bridge sections, seeing how they are just plain old D and C. You can certainly hear that I had become somewhat enamoured of The Only Ones. Around the time this song was written I spent quite a lot of time wandering the streets alone with a bottle of Tesco’s own brand whiskey in the pocket of my long coat (it was dirt cheap but disgusting). I must have been quite miserable to be around, but at least it inspired a good song.
Determined to do better on the promotion side, Dave and our friend Andy McGowan apparently took a copy up and handed it directly to John Peel, who took them out for coffee, I seem to have forgotten about this entirely, so perhaps some else can elaborate. It worked anyway, as Peelie played the song at least once, possibly more. I missed it of course, I didn’t hear anything that I was involved in on the radio until about 1996 when I woke up in the van on the way home from London to the strains of Charlie Batman by Beatnik Filmstars.
One of the music papers also picked up on the single. I was sitting at my place of work one morning when someone rang me up and asked if he could do a quick interview. There were no mobile phones then, so I had to do the interview sat as my desk, whilst other people in the office went about their business and could overhear me talking about socialist planning and a liking for the songs of the Velvet Underground and Joy Division. They must have wondered what on earth was going on.
SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE
The AA side to “Hit the Bottle” was a brand new song which we learned and recorded within a couple of weeks. I can’t remember what we had planned to do up to the point where this song came along – maybe we hadn’t decided on anything.
In 1987 I had moved out of my parents’ house and into a flat on the Gloucester Road which I was sharing with Jeremy. It was the first time I had properly supported myself and times were hard on an NHS Clerical Officer's salary, but we managed to have a lot of good times nevertheless. One of these involved me getting so drunk that I climbed in through his bedroom window in the middle of the night because I couldn't find any other way into the house. He didn't seem to mind. In fact the window featured on the cover of this single is the window I fell in through.
I distinctly remember teaching Katy the vocal to this song in our flat soon after it was written. In particular I remember that what I sang to her was a pretty monotone rumble and that she took it and made it into something far more inspiring. I also remember that The Velvet Underground by the Velvet Underground was newly on the turntable at the time.
This song really shows off Steve Street’s genius as a producer – I think it is the best recorded song I have ever been involved with. How he managed to keep the end section together I’ll never know, but to this day it still sends a tingle down my spine. Phil’s drumming is very JD/New Order and Rob’s bass part at the end is also amazing, utter genius in my eyes. I think he is playing chords on all four bass strings. Dave had a new keyboard too, which features heavily. The Pro-One was finally consigned to the bedroom cupboard after a life of subtle stubbornness.
The feedback at the end of this song was a lot of fun to record – Steve put me in the lobby between the control room and the live room with my amp turned up full and basically made me stay there until he got what he wanted. In the run-off groove are etched the words “shut the f*ck up” – which is exactly what he said to me when he eventually opened the door.
Dave Simpson at the Melody Maker (for apparently it was he) was particularly taken with this song, which he compared to Strawberry Switchblade. Just goes to show how much he knew about anything.
Following the release of Hit the Bottle, we continued to play gigs in Bristol while writing and demoing new songs, but it became very clear over the course of the year that nobody was taking a lot of notice. Whilst bands around us like the Brilliant Corners, the Blue Aeroplanes, the Groove Farm and the Flatmates were travelling all over the country to play shows, and selling quite a few records as well, we were at a standstill commercially. We played two gigs away from Bristol that year, one with the Groove Farm in London and one with the Flatmates at Bath University. At the former, we played second out of three bands and were ignored totally by the NME, who reviewed both the Groove Farm and the band who went on before us, but didn’t even mention that we had played. At the latter we got to see how well bands were treated when the managed to play University gigs, with big PAs and enthusiastic crowds. By the end of the year it was obvious that, in the words of Girls at Our Best, we were getting nowhere fast.
That Christmas I went out for a drink with Martin who told me the Flatmates had a tour lined up with the Wedding Present and a new single coming out which was going to be a big indie hit. Somewhat tongue in cheek I suggested that if they were going to make the next step up they probably needed another guitarist to fill out the sound, but Martin agreed with me and asked me to join. I wasn’t a huge fan of what they were doing but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so I said yes. This effectively meant the end of the Five Year Plan, since the touring and recording schedule for the next year was packed. It wasn’t something I was happy about, but it felt like the best thing to do.
They say you should live fast and die young, and as a band the Flatmates certainly did. By the end of October 1988 it was pretty much all over. I could go into a lot of detail and give my side of the story here, but I don’t think I will. One day, maybe, but not right now. It didn’t take long for me to start looking to the future again though and so the Five Year Plan re-grouped with the aim of recording and releasing another single and giving it one more try. I was very grateful that everyone was willing to get back together again after I had effectively deserted them all in the search for fame and fortune. We worked up some new songs in the rehearsal rooms underneath the Moon Club, and booked another session in SAM. Although no one can remember exactly when this recording took place, I think it was at the very end of 1988 and the start of 1989.
Tall Trees was a brand new song written after the demise of the Flatmates. It features some terrific work from Phil, who by this point had matured into a really brilliant drummer. It is a song about the breakdown of a relationship, with the singer regretting his actions and living out a series of pointless one night stands, whilst his ex- puts on a brave face in public but eventually commits suicide. Pretty grim stuff really!
SEE YOU IN HEAVEN
The final session we recorded at SAM saw Sooty back at the controls again, but with strict instructions to follow the Steve Street model. He did a pretty good job too, as this sounds much closer to the Hit the Bottle session. This song was eventually released on the first Airspace album, put together by Groove Farm bass player Rupert Taylor and Sarah Tachi, who I think were both doing work for the charity at the time. It was an adventurous project, but they pulled it off really well, and getting the likes of the Wedding Present to contribute really earned the album a lot of respect. The version of this song which went on the album was a re-mix where we let Sooty do it his way. It is cleaner, with less reverb, and wouldn’t have fitted as well on this album so we stuck with the original mix, which I prefer.
I don’t exactly remember how See You In Heaven came about, but I have a good idea that it was one of two or three songs that I tried to write for the Flatmates. Following a long European tour to promote the “Shimmer” single, the Flatmates had returned home for a rest but after a few weeks I started to get calls from their management company on a pretty regular basis, urging me to persuade Martin to write some new songs. After a while they began saying I should write some myself, because nothing was forthcoming from Martin.
The management company (who also looked after the Wedding Present) wanted an album recorded in the Autumn, as soon as the next tour was over, and that’s why they were in a panic that there was no new material. I suspect that Martin was deliberately holding off in the hope that a major record label could be found for the band so that Subway didn’t have to fund the recording and promotion of the album. After all, it was basically his money (as the owner of Subway) that the management company was so keen to spend in large quantities.
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I didn’t really think that the songs I wrote would fit the Flatmates sound, but Simon (from Hallin Music) kept pestering me to try so I wrote a couple and played them to Martin. I don’t think Martin could imagine them as Flatmates songs either, and nothing more came of it.
The last two songs on this EP were demoed on a 4-track with Dave and Jeremy, but See You In Heaven wasn’t, so I think I probably just brought it along to rehearsals and we worked it out there and then. It’s the only singing that Katy did on those recordings, because I am pretty sure that we were teaching her to play the guitar by that point to replace Jeremy who was moving away to start a new job. I’m not sure if Katy actually plays any guitar on the recordings, but it’s noticeable now that she doesn’t sing any backing vocals. Maybe we just ran out of time in the studio.
Listening back now, I can see how the song might have been written with Debbie in mind. I’d love to hear a Flatmates version of it, just to see if it would have worked. I can also see another reason why the song might not have been suitable – too many songs with the word “Heaven” in the title!
BATTERED OLD FORD
Both Rob and I used to drive very old second hand Ford Escorts, hence the occasional references in our songs. We loved those cars, they were so simple, but they got us from A-B (about half the time!). Mine was an estate, and the amount of gear you could pile into that car was amazing. They had so much more character than the cars you get on the roads these days (he said sounding like a boring old git), and they came in colours you don’t see any longer. Mine was a mustard yellow, Rob’s was a kind of mud brown.
This song was undoubtedly influenced by Microdisney, a band we all liked but whom most people around us did not. I was lucky that I got to play on the same stage as them with the Flatmates, at the Town and Country Club in London. Sadly it was a gig I’d rather forget, because we were terrible – that’s not just me saying it, everyone agreed. We were so nervous of playing in such a big place that we played the entire set at lightning speed and couldn’t get off the stage fast enough. Most people in the crowd would have been there to see Microdisney anyway and must have been very bemused by it all. Afterwards I was too embarrassed to try to go and say hello to the band, even though I admired them very much. They probably didn’t even know who we were or even that we had played to be honest. Cathal Coughlan had a pretty fearsome reputation anyway, so it was probably just as well. Funnily enough Microdisney weren’t that good either that night, I much preferred seeing them in the smaller and more intimate venue at Bristol’s Bower Ashton campus. Perhaps they suffered a bit from nerves too.
Jeremy played most of the lead on this song and does a fine job, but Rob played the break in the middle, which is exceptional, mainly because it is so off the beaten track. All the best guitar parts on Five Year Plan songs are his.
Not so much an influence as a tribute, this song paid homage to the Blue Orchids, one of our all-time favourite bands from the early 80’s. They featured two ex-members of the Fall, Martin Bramah and Oonah Baines, but I always preferred them to the Fall because I like a good tune. By the mid-80’s they had disappeared off the face of the earth, so it felt like it was high time someone paid homage by writing a song very much in their vein. The rhythm section on this song is terrific, Phil’s drumming and Rob’s bass really working together. Dave, Jeremy and I had demoed the song at some point on 4-track, and the ending had a harmonica part by Mr Woods which we didn’t deem suitable to use on the final recording. I’m not sure why because everyone is a sucker for a harmonica. We’ve included it here just so you get an idea of how it might have sounded if we’d used it.
The song is another rant against Thatcher, who by this point had just turned plain loopy – “waiting in her long lines” being a reference to the huge levels of unemployment at the time.
As soon as these recordings were complete Jeremy moved away to Leicester to start a new job working for Golden Wonder. We got some free crisps out of it, but it wasn’t much compensation. After this it all gets a bit hazy. The funds to release the record never materialised, although we did do a short cassette run and had a few t-shirts printed up for some reason (I still have mine). I know that we rehearsed for a while longer at E-plus studio, where we had earlier recorded some demos. Katy played guitar as well as singing, and I recall at least two new songs were written which we never recorded in any fashion, not even onto a cassette recorder, so all I can tell you is they were good ones!
We still had a few unsold copies of Hit the Bottle, which had been pressed in quite large quantities, so I gave them to Andrew from the Groove Farm who gave them away with his fanzine. I think probably quite a lot of people got to hear us through that, which is why there are still people out there who remember the band.
Our final act was to play a gig in Birmingham with the Groove Farm, sometime in 1989 at a venue I can’t recall. Phil was no longer available to drum and Katy wasn’t there either, so I think we played this gig as a four piece – me, Rob, Dave and our friend Jeremy Handel filling in on drums. Jer had just started working in a psychiatric hospital in Surrey (it was always a fine line as to whether he should have been a nurse there or a patient!) so we hired a van and drove from Bristol to Surrey to pick him up, then from Surrey to Birmingham to play the gig. We then dropped David at the station so he could catch the train home (he was working the next day) before driving the van back to Surrey and finally returning to Bristol in the early hours of the morning. It was our last act as the Five year Plan, so at least we dragged it out as long as possible.
JILL’S HIP (PUMPIN’ FOR JILL)
At the time this collaboration was recorded Tim was playing with The Flatmates and in any real sense The Five Year Plan didn't really exist. I continued to share an abode with Martin and Sarah of The Flatmates, and at this time they were off on a national tour supported by The Subway Organisation's American signings, Choo Choo Train.
From what I recall (sorry but all my vinyl is on another continent so I can't check the sleevenotes), the first single, Briar Rose, was chiefly Ric Menck and Paul Chastain, but on the tour they were joined on guitars by Darren Cooper and Rob Moore, who looked a lot like Peter Tork. I'd loved the single and live they were magnificent, harder, faster, louder. And they could play. Their live set was sprinkled with choice covers, "Shake Some Action", "Teenage Kicks", "Walking Out On Love" by Paul Collins (their version appears on the "Hey Wimpus"album), and Iggy Pop's "Pumpin' For Jill" (the one I didn't know at the time, and still am not sure I've consciously heard all the way through).
Tim and I got on well with them and Tim offered to finance a day in SAM studio, just for fun as I recall. It was decided to record "Jill". Sooty the engineer (see previous posts) I'm sure thought he was in for another day of stop/start recording and dropping in parts with another band struggling with the studio. Soots had definite ideas about lack of musical ability, an odd attitude for a punk. I know this is what Sooty was expecting because I remember seeing his jaw drop when Choo Choo Train had a first run through the song.
I'm pretty sure the recording is the first or second take. Paul worked out the keyboard part and patiently taught me the chords - I'd first started playing on mono synths and had graduated to simple chords, but Paul had me using a large number of fingers on both hands at the same time. He could, no doubt, have played the part himself in a fraction of the time, but I've always been glad he didn't. Tim sang the lead vocal and we all piled into the booth for the backing "la la las". The song appeared on an Airspace compilation LP but otherwise I'm sure this is its only other outing.
It never fails to make me smile.
"Sooty, are we rolling? One, two, buckle my shoe . . . "
PUMPIN FOR JILL PT II
So, the CDs are back on sale and we’d reached the mid-way point in our story. Dave provided his memories of the Five Year Plan/Choo Choo Train collaboration, here’s a few more:
Choo Choo Train drank a lot of coke, particularly in the mornings.
They complained incessantly that Britain did not have enough showers.
On the first gig of the Flatmates tour, Rik broke the bass drum pedal. As there was no spare, he spent the whole of the Flatmates set on his knees whacking at the bass drum!
Choo Choo Train were so good that it took half a dozen gigs before the Flatmates began to feel comfortable playing on the same stage as them – we were just totally in awe.
Rik used to spend nearly as much time at the front of the stage talking as he did behind the drum kit drumming. Sometimes he would wander to the front, say something, turn to walk back to his kit and then suddenly turn back and say some more. It was hysterical but the (mainly Flatmates) crowds were quite bemused at times.
At Manchester University the students insisted on sitting down when Choo Choo Train came on. Rik simply refused to play until they stood up. For a few moments it was touch and go, but eventually the crowd stood and the gig proceeded!
Half way through the tour the Flatmates drummer Joel injured his hand an Rik stood in for three or four gigs.
Paul Chastain was such a sweetie that I once pronounced that if he was a woman I would marry him.
Darren pretty much saved my life. During the ill-fated gig at ULU, there was a lot of trouble with the Corn Dollies, who had been brought in at the last minute to replace the Blue Aeroplanes. There were arguments about where on the bill they should be playing, and they had drunk a significant portion of our rider (it wasn’t all down to me!). They were getting quite threatening towards Rik and I when Darren, who was a pretty big chap, walked into the dressing room and said “Is there a problem gents?”. They took one look at him and left without playing.
After the tour I drove Choo Choo Train to Brighton for a gig. Rik spent the whole time asking where Bobby Gillespie was. I got to join them on stage for the last song, Pumpin’ For Jill, which is where the idea came from that we should record something together. On the way home there was so much fog that Darren had to lean out of the van window so that he could see the road markings and shout directions. Near Swindon on the M4 we all saw a ghostly figure by the side of the road waving. The others in the car behind us, which came along more than an hour later, also saw the same figure. Spooky!
The last time I saw Rik and Paul was when the Beatnik Filmstars played with them in Cologne. They were great people and I will never forget that tour and all the fun (and drama) we had.
SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU LAUGH
The last song on the first 12” single, moved down the order here to make the record flow a bit better. This song was written just days before the recording of the single, inspired by the sight of a policeman cycling past my house on a bike. It may be quite a common sight these days, but back in 1985 with the Miner’s strike not long finished and the memories of policemen in riot gear out in force at Orgreave, it was a very strange sight indeed at that time.
After we had recorded the three drum tracks for the other songs we told Sooty that we just wanted to knock out a very quick acoustic number as a fourth song. The “quick acoustic number” actually took a lot longer to record than expected, much to Sooty’s annoyance. We played this song live only once, at the gig reviewed by Campbell Stevenson for the NME. Probably not a good idea in hindsight..
THE 1ST E-PLUS SESSION
Following the release of our first single, we knew that we could get a better sound but were without a record label or any funds to try again, and it was too soon to approach Revolver about doing another single. We played gigs throughout the summer, quite a few at the Tropic Club, as well as the Ashton Court festival. I think this year we went on at 12 noon and played to about 50 people – it was the slot they gave to bands who were too good to turn down but whom nobody knew anything about (i.e. they didn’t have large groups of friends or know people who ran the festival). We wrote and rehearsed some new songs, including Wildcountry Lane, Everything I Ask For and Hit the Bottle, but didn’t really know what to do with them.
Then someone introduced us to Chris Martin who ran a small 8-track studio down by the docks. It was actually located in a condemned building, an old house which was part of a warehouse set-up very close to what is now the car park for the SS Great Britain. The gear was cheap and minimal, but the enthusiasm was there in spades. The studio seemed to have multiple names – either ”E-Plus” or “The Facility” depending upon your mood. Chris was a nice chap, knew his music and didn’t charge much, so it seemed the ideal place to record some of our new songs and see how they sounded.
Sadly at around this time Andrea left the band, although I remember her playing on some of these songs when we learnt them. We definitely went into these sessions with only one guitar player, however. It was a great session, really fun and we didn’t spend the whole time worrying about money. The sound is very condensed compared to the 16-track recordings, but the songs sounded better, more exciting. Rob played lead guitar on the session and Dave appears to have played no keyboards at all – on Wildcountry Lane song he plays the lap-steel guitar, on Everything I Ask For the tambourine. I think we had just discovered Microdisney around this point and were sold on the idea of doing lots of short, sharp pop songs. I’d like to have heard what we would have come out with if we had demoed a whole LP around this time, it would have been very interesting. Probably the worst thing about the studio was the quality of the vocals – Katy sounds pretty muffled by comparison with the sound we got at SAM, but then Chris wasn’t exactly flush – I think he was living in the studio at one point and was under notice of eviction from the building.
Here are Rob’s thoughts on Wildcountry Lane:
“ I remember writing it, or some of it, having been to visit Linda (Rob’s sister) when she worked at Barrow Gurney Psychiatric Hospital, which was at the end of the (real) Wildcountry Lane. She had told me about patients who left the grounds and were found wandering along what was indeed a pretty wild (and dark) country lane. The fear was that they would throw themselves over the bridge onto the main road below.... Which is all very bleak. The song is about suicide, but also about the exhilaration of finding yourself somewhere dangerous and unpredictable and very lonely. I think it's only two minutes long, and given the themes maybe that's just as well.
EVERYTHING I ASK FOR
The E-plus set up was a small control room linked to a live room downstairs, and a rehearsal room and storage space upstairs. Chris was managing the Groove Farm at the time, and this was where they had recorded their first couple of singles before signing to Subway and recording at SAM. The first time we met we were taking some gear up the stairs and they were coming down from a rehearsal. I recall Jon Kent grunting a hello at me but that was about it. Who knew we would still be friends and playing music together nearly 30 years later?!
“You can tell we were from a village. There are so many references to bridges, lanes, pointless journeys in cars; and in Everything I Ask For the suggestion that we could ‘meet in town’. In other words, the singer is suggesting a journey to a provincial city, which is a (useless) bus-service away from his starting point – which would of course be a lonely bus stop, on a main road, in the middle of nowhere.
While we were all in love with bands from sexily urban Manchester (and were probably a bit envious of the imagery of post-industrial decline that those bands deployed so well) we were really relieved when the Go-Betweens turned up. They came from somewhere much more remote – miles away from where it was all supposedly ‘happening’. In our songs I can hear us sometimes striving to be as moody as Joy Division, but while actually channelling the spirit of the Go-Betweens – our songs are at their best when we are singing about the very uncool place we actually came from. Having recently moved back to the countryside I can suddenly remember exactly what that felt like. Nothing changes, nothing (apparently) will go wrong, it’s empty – but you do see things more clearly.”
We were pleased enough with the session to release it as a cassette under the catalogue number Break 2. Cassettes were still an acceptable form of release at the time and I think we managed to sell quite a few.